User Interfaces: Making the Impossible Possible
Many people don’t know the first thing about what it takes to build an electronic device. The innovation that goes into creating tech gadgets is probably more impressive than the functionality made possible with modern tech. The beauty of technology is that gadgets make it possible for everyday users to make devices complete complex processes and functions. It’s all made possible by the user interface.
The user interface is the component of an electronic device that allows the user to tell the gadget, appliance or piece of equipment what to do. It’s one thing to have an appliance that can broil, roast, bake and perform other functions, but users must have an easy way to initiate those processes.
The user interface is one of the most critical components in product design. That’s because it’s the user interface, as well as the gadget’s or appliance’s performance, that makes or breaks a product. Consumers turn away from even the most impressive functionality if the user interface is frustrating or non-intuitive.
With modern user interfaces, such as custom membrane switches, users can initiate complex processes with the simple touch of a button or press of a key. Products with complex and confusing interfaces mean consumers must commit to learning and adapting to those requirements in order to reap the benefits of using the product. If you’ve ever purchased a gadget that ended up functioning more as a paperweight than its intended use, the user interface may have been to blame. In some cases, it’s just easier to use the old-fashioned methods of getting things done if a device is a pain to use.
That’s why product designers must carefully weigh the intended audience’s technological savvy, need for the product’s functionality, and other factors – as well as devise ways to simplify the user interface to make it easier to achieve the desired result. User interface design is far more than merely incorporating a few on/off buttons.
There are a few important considerations in designing a user interface. First, all the critical functions must be represented.
That sometimes means a complex set of switches to control the various functions of the gadget – and fitting all those switches in a constrained layout. The space available for a user interface is restricted by the size of the device and other necessary components.
The other important consideration is intuition. The more complex the functionality, the more switches must be present to add usability. But these complex configurations can confuse non tech-savvy users, which is why the audience must be carefully researched and considered throughout the design process.
The more intuitive the user interface, the easier it is to use. The on/off switch, for instance, should be clearly labeled and in a convenient and easy-to-access location as it will probably be one of the most frequently-used controls. Likewise, related controls should be placed in close proximity to one another. It doesn’t make sense to users to have a switch that increases volume in one location and a switch to decrease volume in another – that’s why you typically see the two volume controls in one location. Placement of switches plays a big role in intuition.
When many switches are present and not clearly labeled, users sometimes fail to explore the device’s complete functionality, sticking with the intuitive controls that they know how to use. This doesn’t pose significant problems with consumer adoption, but it does result in consumers seeing less benefits from the full functionality of the gadget or appliance.
User interfaces make the otherwise impossible possible. With modern technology allowing tiny devices to perform complex functions, the average person can accomplish great things with the right technology. As electronic gadgets become more sophisticated, usability – and thus the user interface – will continue to play a critical role in consumer adoption.